Monday, 25 October 2010

LIFE EXPECTANCY: Might we live 1000 years?

The Picture of Dorian Gray may not be just a figment of Oscar Wilde’s creative imagination, if Cambridge University gerontology researcher A. de Grey has his way. Grey claims that within the next few decades it will be possible to prolong life to 1000 years while keeping people relatively youthful and vibrant. It is remarkable that life expectancy today is roughly twice on average as it was during the Medieval era in parts of Europe.
Nutrition, hygiene, medical science, and less labor-intensive labor have raised lifestyle expectancy. When asked, however, most people replied that they would not wish to live more than a century, especially if their friends and relatives are not alive, thus proving Epicurus correct after all. “Of all the things which wisdom provides for the happiness of the whole life, by far the most important is the acquisition of friendship.” Life of quality, not quantity, mattered to the pagans 2000 years ago, and it seems the same is true of Christians
today. Assuming Biotechnology and medical science can make it possible for people to live more than 100 years, what kind of planet would need to meet a population of 100 billion or more, what techno-institutions,
what robo-lifestyles, what recycled products would we use and become? Life is sweet because it is short, because we wonder at its beauty and race to give it meaning before it ends. Immersed in common endeavors,
struggles, endless antagonisms over which we fight and die so we can derive purpose, life’s absurdities are as sweet and bitter as are choices. If indeed medical science makes it possible for people to live 1000 years, would government establish “Soylent Green” plants (a 1970s motion picture in which the great actor Edward G. Robinson chooses death in exchange for a few minutes of enjoying nature on the big screen). People recycled for the consumption of other people may not be such a bad idea if we live 1000 years. Are we as irrational about what we expect from biotech companies as we are of what we expect of each other, of ourselves? Would this mean that 700-year old people would be arguing about Jerusalem as the exclusive domain of Jews, Muslims, and Christians; that 800-year old people would be debating the merits of using space for dumping garbage only after securing official UN paperwork, that 900-year olds would be arguing
same-sex marriages and legal adoption of 600-year-old children? The limits of Kafkaesque techno-absurdity are only surpassed by those of human imagination. Science and technology can be applied toward
constructive resolution of conflicts for those of us under 1000 years old, just as they can make it possible some day for us to live 1000 years of blissful agony. Will the US State Department abandon four-year plans and design foreign policy for the century like Japanese companies plan their future? Would the Marshall Islands and Mongolia be EU members over the vehement objections of western Europeans? Would 1000-year old academics be debating the merits of including Middle Eastern countries in NATO and EU, would they be contesting the limits of democracy as a facade for anarchy or dictatorship and arguing about terrorism as a euphemism for aggressive diplomacy or merely another form of protest? And what of those
crypto-Chiliastic elements among us who believe the world will end in 1000 years, only to have Microsoft reassure investors that it has already taken Divine Providence into account despite anti-trust

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